The Emma Press Anthology of Aunts

A poem of mine features in this celebratory anthology from The Emma Press, launched this week. The anthology has poems covering all kinds of aunts, both real and fictional, from historical to crazy to heavy metal-loving. Beautifully designed and edited, it’s full of high-quality work and it’s a real pleasure to be in such good company.

My poem covers a few bases; it’s a eulogy, a marker, and an exploration of memory all wrapped up in the classic Sims games. It looks at the things we leave behind that aren’t always physical. Here’s a look at the cover:

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The anthology is available direct from The Emma Press website.

Recently Read: School of Forgery

 

School of Forgery is the debut full collection from Jon Stone, something I’ve personally been anticipating for some years now. I first became aware of him via Fuselit magazine, of which both he and Kirsten Irving are creators, and from that point on I was always interested to see where his work would appear and what he’d conjure next.

While Stone’s poems cover a wealth of subject matter, a certain clutch of images and reference points crop up repeatedly throughout this collection that, amongst the backdrop of contemporary poetry, set him quite a bit apart from others. Stone, clearly, is a lover of Japanese culture and all that entails, from folklore to Manga to cartoons and robots. This could be a big part of the reason I was initially attracted to his work, because these things formed an enormous part of my upbringing. In my latter teenage years, especially, I fell instantly in love with anime, soaking up the classics such as Akira and Ghost in the Shell, as well as the slightly off-kilter offerings and nightmarish yet weirdly enticing Urotsukidoji series (a beautiful quote referencing this depraved classic is brilliantly cherry picked for the poemTatsunoko). There was the breadth of Asian cinema, the comics, and of course the computer games, and all of it just seemed so thrilling to me.

I get sort of the same sensations from reading School of Forgery. There are flashes of things I recognize, things that seem familiar yet have been written to feel brand new, and things I have no knowledge of yet feel inspired to look up. What propels all of this colour and electricity along is the technical exuberance in which they are rendered. In less capable hands, deciding you are going to write about a character from an obscure anime, for example, could easily fall flat. Yet Stone possesses the mechanical know-how to match the intents of his ideas. For quite a large chunk of the book, he keeps his style actually quite tame and there’s a sense of real energy fizzing beneath the words, like an erratic pokemon that wants to explode into fireworks yet is being held on a lead by its master. And then there are occasions, too few in my opinion, when he simply lets rip.

It makes perfect sense to place the two poems Nose Jobs and Jake Root alongside each other, because they are both absolutely packed with brilliant, brilliant writing. There is such a mastery of rhythm, pace, alliteration, imagery and audio joy in these two pieces that each of the poems start to feel like some kind of amorphous, living thing; imagine a slightly transparent indigo jelly filled with organs and bones and sparkling things, all moving and jostling and glugging and jabbering at you … that’s how these two pieces feel (in my head, at any rate). And side by side, they fizz and spark off each other, so that the more you read them, the more hypnotic they become. Had every poem in the book been like this, I can imagine it could be quite exhausting for the reader, so, contrary to what I said above, I can see why for some of the others Stone has reigned his vocabulary in for a more measured, subtle reading experience.

Other highlights include Death Daydream Season, a series of poems based on the Avengers TV series, with each poem being meticulously crafted into the shape of the character it is written about. Steed’s walking stick comprised of lots of “to’s” is a nice touch. Such experiments, together with the Mustard poem, where every line ends with a different amalgamation of the letters contained in the title, ensures a varied, bubbling cauldron of poetry that, on first read, shouts and bounces around for attention. (Probably best to give it two reads to let it all sink in, as I did).

School of Forgery is never vague. It is a highly specific book tailored to specific ideas, with a pinpoint accuracy of references. It could be argued that if you have zero knowledge of the influences and name checks you could be left feeling unable to engage, but I’d say there is still a huge amount of pleasure for those people to be had in the variety of language, techniques and thought processes going on here. For those craving some originality and a spark of the frizzy-haired mad scientist in their poetry, it’s a must.

NaPoWriMo

Or: National Poetry Writing Month. The idea is to write one poem per day for the entire month of April. I gave novel writing month a go back in November and, even though the end result was a mess, at least managed to get a finished article. I’ve decided to post my work at the Poetry Free For All (if you want to show your progress here, you have to create a thread before midnight tonight!) I’m hoping this will give me the kick I need to stop being so slow with my ideas and just get them written down, however clumsy. Also, I had a tentative idea to write a sequence of sonnets based on bosses from the Metal Gear Solid series, and this could be an opportunity to get stuck into that.

For anyone who’s interested, my username at PFFA is wow_bob_wow (signed up for an account when I was heavily into Twin Peaks) and my thread can be viewed/ followed here. It’s called OctoMatt, as I’m a bit enamoured of octopuses at the moment; not to say every poem will be about octopuses, that’d get boring pretty fast. The first one is, though.

Enjoy!

Anonymous Poetry Submissions

If you purchase enough poetry magazines pretty soon you’ll start to notice, issue upon issue, the same cluster of names coming up time and again. These circling groups of known names may differ across publications, but the core remains pretty much constant, with certain individuals popping up just about everywhere with alarming regularity. It would be wrong to say good poetry is not produced by this recurring crop of writers, but it would similarly be wrong to suggest absolutely everything they write is pure publishing gold.

I’m not going to specifically target individuals, because aside from that being quite petty, the problem is more one of osmosis. I’m sure there are writers with many collections under their belts who have work rejected now and again from magazines, but I’m also sure your name can do a great deal for you when it comes to submitting work. It has to, surely? It’s entirely human to respond differently to something once you know the name of the author or artist attached to it. If it’s an author you enjoy, you’ll most likely be more open to the work and go in with an open mind; if it’s an unknown author or even someone you’ve developed a dislike for, that spark of initial interest might just be missing, or you may be harsher in your criticism of their writing.

It can start to feel as if the poetry world, like so many others, is monopolised; dominated by a sort of inner circle. You’d have to be naive not to believe a fair degree of back slapping and favouring occurs, especially when you do a little research to discover exactly who knows who, and how many times an editor has sprinkled the pages of a magazine with the work of their friends. That’s not to suggest competitions or selections for publication in a magazine are “fixed”. What I’m suggesting is not as sinister as that, but more insidious and perhaps even understandable. If I were to imagine myself in a similar position, I can see how it might be desirable or easier to simply publish the people whose work I know and trust, especially with so many hundreds of submissions flooding the inbox.

However, this grows increasingly frustrating when you find certain works to be empty, flimsy and not especially well written, yet published because of what can only be the editor’s relationship to – or the status of – a certain well known poet. In these instances I confess to feeling genuine anger. Perhaps, in these instances, the poems were simply not to my taste. Either way, I can’t be the only one who would like to see greater variation in contemporary magazines and zines. It sounds like an issue you’d imagine only the bigger magazines suffer, but even the independent places eventually begin to accrue their own special friends list.

For these reasons, I feel anonymous submissions are truly the way to go. When you think about it, what need has an editor for your name and back story in the first place? Surely all that needs to be up for judgement are the poems themselves; they should speak for you and impress on their own terms. How many times you’ve been published before or how many prizes you’ve won really shouldn’t come into it. Even a prize winning author is capable of writing a dud from time to time.  

Anon is one such magazine, produced to a high standard and filled with really interesting work. I’d love to see more and more magazines – especially the better known ones – take up this approach, and maybe then we’d have an end to this cliquey style of publishing that, to me, seems to be growing ever more present in today’s poetry climate.

Recently Read: Twelve Nudes

I went to see Ross Sutherland at Bristol’s Word of Mouth event a few months ago. I think it was at this point that I realized the full terror of performing poetry to an audience. He was confident and theatrical, slipping in and out of comic voices and perfectly expressing the atmosphere evident in each poem with ease. So I could only sit and be impressed by a writer pumping blood into the lines they’d written alone, probably in silence. There was a re-working of Little Red Riding Hood, a tale of a failing marriage, and an ode to a member of the audience bursting with absurdist imagery.

Twelve Nudes continues this blend of sincerity and vivid imagination, featuring blood clots that swagger like sheriffs, an overly sensitive pygmy hippo and terrorists in Dracula masks. As with Kennard, it is the imagery that strikes you at first, but you get the feeling you need to read the whole collection several times, very slowly, to get a feel for what’s going on beneath all the colour and smoke. There’s a brilliant similie involving the serious episode of a sitcom that plays out the end credits with no music – probably the punchiest piece of imagery in the collection – and The End of Our Marriage finishes proceedings on a heartfelt, rather than bizarre, note.

Recently Read: Coin Opera

When I first set about writing poetry, about three years ago now, I mostly only knew about the prolific magazines. These publications were vital for breaking me in to the poetry world, but I soon got bored of all the poems about relationships and death that seemed to clog their pages. My hackles are involuntarily raised by that which is too twee, too samey, or trying too hard to be hip. Two discoveries completely reignited my passion for poetry and opened my eyes to its full potential. These were the poet Luke Kennard, and the world of Fuselit magazine and its associated publications from Sidekick books. In these pages I found explosions of creativity, imagination and otherwordly imagery – in short, everything I strive for in my own writing. I believe in conveying feeling; people can write about love and death and relationships, but far too often they leave out what is surely a  neccessary component in creative writing – the creativity. It’s this that separates a poem from a diary entry, I feel.

So! Coin Opera, then. A little volume concerned with computer game poetry. I adore computer games. I adore poetry. What could go wrong? The answer is: very little. Let’s start with the design of the book, which features a little pixel wizard on the cover from the days of yore (by which I mean the SNES), together with nifty little touches such as Player 1 – Get Ready splashed across the opening page. The titles of each poem are also rendered in a lovely old school type reminiscent of arcade machines. I admit there were a few references to games I’d never heard of, but that’s hardly a weakness of the collection and more down to my own ignorance.

The points at which the collection dazzles are when the poems richly evoke the feel of those old games, painting as vivid a picture as one could wish of lurching down dingy corridors hulking impossibly giant weapons, or guiding some pink pixel blob loftily over ice cream coloured platform levels. Julie Bird’s For my brother, restlessly, cleverly maps out memories of her brother in little chunks designed to emulate the look of Space Invaders, with a chunk of the bottom rows of text even blown to dust by the finishing line – pretty ingenious! Chrissy Williams’s Goldeneye 007 successfully drew me back through time to the days of rabidly playing the N64’s finest title, so much so in fact that I could almost feel those tense moments of narrowly dodging the blow from a golden gun while glass shattered about me.

If I were to give one criticism, it would simply be that the anthology is a tad short, and I wanted even more poems exploring all the games I remembered from my youth. Some of the choices seemed a little obscure, but then perhaps tackling something like Mario would prove less inspiring. It’s a very minor quibble, in any case. This is a collection for computer game and poetry lovers alike, or for anyone looking to expand exactly what they think poetry is, and where it belongs in our digital world.